How This Week's 'Better Call Saul' Subtly Sets the Stage for 'Breaking Bad'
One of the more interesting facets in Better Call Saul is that we know how it ends for most of these characters, and it’s a testament to showrunners Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan that they can make the journey to those endpoints so compelling and suspenseful. There was a brilliant sequence in last night’s episode, for instance, which features the Cousins in a shootout with the Espinosas, and although we know that the Cousins will ultimately survive that mayhem, it’s remarkable just how tense the scene remains, in part because it was being seen through the eyes of Nacho, whose fate still remains unknown.
We’ve seen the picture of the puzzle that’s being put together in Better Call Saul, but Gould and Gilligan somehow manage to make sliding the pieces into the right places fascinating instead of tedious, even when some of the scenes themselves are purposefully tedious (Jimmy bouncing a ball against a wall in an empty cell phone store, for instance).
It’s the subtle little things, however, that keep us transfixed. We know what the puzzle will look like, but we don’t know the motivations behind why they’re putting together this puzzle, and because Saul was such a lawyer caricature in Breaking Bad, there are plenty of gaps in our knowledge to be filled in. Jimmy’s storyline in last night’s episode is the perfect example: He takes a job with a cell phone company for one reason only: To avoid going to therapy.
If Jimmy had turned down the job and gone to see a shrink, as Kim had asked, maybe he’s a completely different person. Maybe he comes to terms with his brother’s death, accepts his role in it, processes it and comes out a more emotionally healthy person. But he’s not ready to confront that yet, and the guilt and the sadness and the grief will continue to warp Jimmy into the person he becomes on Breaking Bad. But we also see in the episode Jimmy’s strengthening relationship with Ira — his burglar friend — who will become a pivotal figure in Breaking Bad. Moreover, in working in the cell phone store — and painting “Is the Man Listening? Privacy Sold Here” onto the window of the story — he’s attracting a different clientele. A criminal clientele. He’s not just working in a cell phone store now, he’s recruiting clients and connections for the future Saul Goodman. It also explains Saul’s obsession with cell phones.
How Saul Mike transforms into Breaking Bad Mike is not as transparently telegraphed in this episode, but it’s also no less obvious. When Stacey explains in her support group how she has gone several hours, sometimes, without remembering her late husband, Matt, it is Mike who takes on that pain. All things considered, Mike is living the good life, working at Madrigal while $200,000 is being laundered for him; working the crosswords while also spending relaxed time with his granddaughter and something of a romantic interest in Anita. Stacey’s confession hits him sideways, and he’s not sure how to take it in. Should he feel guilty for living a relaxed life, though he is responsible for Matty’s death? Or is it healthy for him to try and move on?
Mike handles those confused feelings by lashing out at Henry (Marc Evans Jackson!) about his made-up stories and his attempts to steal others’ grief, but he also sabotages his relationship in the support group by calling them out, endangering both his relationship with Anita and Stacey — who we know no freezes him out by the time Breaking Bad rolls around. And what does Mike do? He practically jumps — albeit in Mike’s typically gruff manner — at the opportunity to do a job for Gus, because it will give him something to do to take his mind off of Matty. He’s looking for both a healthy and a self-destructive outcome, and it’s that choice that will ultimately lead him to Walter White.
What we don’t know, however, is Kim’s outcome — and that’s a whole section of the puzzle that has been obscured from our view. There was a moment last week when Mesa Verde was outlining their expansion plans, where some thought that Mesa Verde might be mixed up in Gus Fring’s drug operation, a possibility that could fell Kim Wexler or potentially put her in prison during the Breaking Bad years.
This week, however, it appears that Kim is trying to move away from Mesa Verde, by searching for new opportunities — or the meaning of life — within a courtroom. That’s a story arc, however, that Judge Munsinger has seen too many times, and he gives Kim the old The Verdict speech, delivered as though it wasn’t the first time he gave it to a disillusioned attorney. But it does not dissuade Kim, and it’s her storyline that remains the murkiest. Does she find salvation in that courtroom? Does she get involved with her own criminal element? Or does she go back to Mesa Verde discouraged and out of options? And how do any of those choices affect her relationship with Jimmy?
That remains Saul’s biggest unknown, but that mystery is no less or more absorbing than Mike and Jimmy’s journeys.
Header Image Source: AMC
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